Our Cemeteries

In the past, when we’ve visited Michigan, hubby and I visited his parents’ graves. This time, we went with my mother to the veteran’s cemetery where my father is buried. When we got to Toronto, we also visited hubby’s grandparents’ graves.  Sherri Matthews gave me the idea to write about our cemeteries.

In Michigan, it was “pouring rain,” (is that a Michigan expression where pouring is used as an adjective meaning the rain is coming down in a downpour?) and we had left the umbrella back home.  There is a government building on the very large property, and I stopped by to see if they had an umbrella to borrow. A nice young man ran about looking for one, even running out to his own car, but alas no umbrella.

The cemetery feels very spacious because there are a lot of grounds with a curving road that cuts through. All the newer sections use flat markers, rather than gravestones, so the illusion is as if one is in a park. It looks clean and contemporary.

When we got to my father’s section, the rain stopped.

Graves are dug in the order of date of death, and many have come after my father. There is an institutional feel. Everything is large and impersonal. Big equipment just beyond my father’s grave is carving out room for more of our dead veterans, and in some cases, their spouses.

I’m grateful for the sacrifices of our veterans, and I am glad that this national cemetery is well cared for and in a beautiful setting. But it’s not where I would have liked my father to be buried. Originally, my parents had plots in a family section of a local cemetery. He would have had a regular headstone, where we would not have been limited by government rules. I also don’t like this idea for my mother because eventually (she’s in very good health and a very young 80, to be clear) she would have to go in the same grave with him, I believe. But near the end my father became more and more focused on his military service in the Korean War, and he changed his funeral and burial plans.

In Toronto, we found old traditional cemeteries. We were told the name of the Jewish cemetery where we would find hubby’s grandparents, so we followed my iPhone directions to get there. We were told it was on the north side of the road, and when we got there we discovered two cemeteries–both Jewish–one on each side of the road. We went to the appropriate side, but we couldn’t find any of the relatives, although we searched the names on every stone. I kept thinking we were in the wrong place because in general the dates appeared too old to me. Although there were a few where the deaths were past 2000, for the most part I thought these plots had been bought 100 years ago.

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I felt bad about this cemetery because although someone was taking care of the grass, many stones were falling over. I didn’t know how much vandalism had to do with this and couldn’t help but wonder why nobody had fixed them!

Jewish cemeteries are sometimes subjected to vandalism. Quite recently in France hundreds were vandalized. But these are old stones and maybe they have fallen over on their own?

Eventually I wandered across the street to the very neat and orderly, but crowded, cemetery.

I searched for some time, as the sun was moving down in the sky, creating shadows. Finally, hubby reached a cousin on the phone. He drove over and showed us that there was yet a third cemetery just up the street! That’s where we found hubby’s grandparents.

Although this cemetery had the right feel and was quite beautiful and old, I won’t show you my photos of hubby’s grandparents’ gorgeous stones because his relatives are what hubby and I think of as superstitious, and I don’t want to annoy anyone.

These Toronto cemeteries all had the look of big city cemeteries where the rows of gravestones are quite close together because land is precious.


Filed under #AmWriting, History, Memoir, Photographs, Sightseeing & Travel, Vintage American culture, Writing

51 responses to “Our Cemeteries

  1. My parents’ grave is in the local parish graveyard. When I was married to my ex, his aunt died. She lived and was buried in northern New Jersey where space is at a premium. I’ll never forget the burial. Stones were jammed together. The cemetery was huge. You would never find anyone unless you stopped at the office first. People were buried in layers. After that the local graveyard looked very attraction. This past weekend is the weekend people honor their dead. There are flowers all over the graves. It’s a really beautiful site.

    • I can imagine how crammed. I’ve seen those New York City cemeteries! How lovely to see the flowers all over–and how sad. My brother is very into going to the cemetery as a mourner and bringing flags and flowers and tears. He’s been honoring our great-uncle this way for years and years, for instance.

  2. This was interesting. Your first description reminded me of the American Cemetery in Normandy that I visited about 10 years ago. My parents and sister are buried in a lovely local cemetery in Piqua, Ohio with beautiful trees, especially in the fall. I also thought it was interesting that your dad became more interested in his Korean War service as he aged. Did he serve in Korea? My dad too seemed to focus more on his brief 2-year service during the Korean War where he was drafted into the army and, fortunately for him, was sent to serve in Germany. He told me about it and his military service is a large part of the story of his life as he tells it in Where Memories Meet.

    • Yes, my dad served in Korea. He wasn’t really in combat per se, although it was considered combat, at least at a certain point. I have photos of him with the children in Korea–he loved the kids. And then he ended up with Korean grandchildren, thanks to me ;). How wonderful that you are capturing your father’s stories!!

  3. I really liked the Toronto cemetery and I was glad you had a chance to see both where family members of husbands rest, his parents Graves and your father’s gravesite. I think it is a good sign the rain stopped when you reached your Dad’s. I will always remember the sailing photograph you had posted with your Dad, Luanne.
    I am also glad you chose those caring words about Veterans. They certainly deserve our respect and appreciation. My dad’s father was one who had PSTD, suffered seizures and caused my Dad to have to work at a young age, changing his life for the better actually. He went on to U of C due to a truck driver giving his sound advice. 🙂

    • Yes, hubby’s grandparents. His parents are buried in Kalamazoo, and we have been there many times.
      Aw, I love that you remember that photo, Robin. It is one of my favorites because it was one of our most fun things to do together.
      Isn’t that wonderful that your dad’s life turned out better for something that people would think would be a negative?!!

      • Oh, I re-read this post and realized i should have stuck to “your husband’s relatives” which was more general and left it at that! 🙂 I am glad your husband’s parents are easier yo vidit, when you ho “home”to Michigan. Now, I may remember his grandparents are in thrir final resting place up in Toronto.
        Side note: first husband snd I went there after we graduated college in 1978, married and we’re on our honeymoon. Toronto is a city of contrasts, new and old, different heritages and lovely.
        Sad to hear of Jewish gravesites being vandalized, Luanne. I was happy his grandparents are in still beautiful condition.
        Yes, this is how I continue to carry a sunny spirit, having a great childhood, young adulthood and parents who have/had indomitable spirits instilled in my brothers and me. We are blessed. Take care, I have been with my Mom since Friday snd celebrated with both brothers and sister in law Mom’s #87 on All Saints Day. 🙂

        • I’m so glad you can be with your mother, Robin, and could be there to celebrate her birthday. How is she doing? Are you getting her all set up? My in-laws are buried in a Kalamazoo cemetery where some of my ancestors are buried. Then my grandparents are buried at a different one, but the one where my dad should have been at–under the oak tree. Sigh. I was in Toronto in 1975 and 1976, very close to you and then maybe even around when you were there. It is changing now and developing some of the same buildings we found in Vancouver (that I do not like–they are residential and might be pleasant inside because they have a lot of windows but from the outside they have a very bland institutional look to them and every one of them looks the same. So far Toronto still has a good mix of styles. I hope they don’t get carried away with this new style.

  4. Interesting, Luanne. I never really thought about how different cemeteries are due where they are located. I mean, I know they are, I just never thought about going to several and comparing them. Of course, it’s much different when you have family members buried there and have that connection.

    We don’t have any relatives graves we visit, but I’ve been contemplating a visit to a historical cemetery. We visited Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, MA a few years ago with our older daughter. It’s one of her favorite places to visit. She sometimes goes there to read, although she discovered reading a horror book there was probably not a great choice. 🙂

    • Well, I admit I didn’t think of it ahead of time. It just happened that we went to two (4 haha) cemeteries in the same trip–and they were so dramatically different. Is the cemetery you want to visit a very ancient one? Is it historical with roots in the beginning of the country–that old?
      Love the point about the horror book reading. hahaha. Yup, I get that. Very scary!

  5. Pingback: Our Cemeteries | avpp2610

  6. I ADORE old cemeteries. My mother and I visited my great-great grandparents’ grave site at a quiet (deserted) crossroads in Upstate New York. The place was well cared for and quite beautiful as the wind moved the tall grasses of deserted hay fields. I remember feeling I’d come home.

    • What a beautiful description, Adrienne. My own comfort with old cemeteries is that I love the historical nature of them and then the ritual of memorializing as well. I’m not particularly sentimental about them, which is a different thing altogether, I think?

      • I think for me it’s a mix–but I tend towards the sentimental side. I like seeing the ones that give some info about the dead person. My imagination runs wild then.

        • Maybe sentimental wasn’t the right word. I guess the whole history thing is sentimental.

          • Yeah. I was just reading about how soldiers in the Civil War made peace with death either by preparing themselves to meet their maker or by imagining they would be the lucky ones and escape death. Even at a cemetery it’s easy for me to just read the tombstones as if my day will never come, but then there’s the one or two stones that offer something more personal–it hits me–they were real people!

            • I was having those feelings the other day when I was looking at old photos of people who are now gone and who I knew as young, vital people. So many of them, picking out a sweater worn in that one photo, making the food on the table in another photo, etc. It really hit me hard.

              • So many of the old photos (19th century) were stiff and formal affairs so when you find one where the people are relaxed and so very real it’s kind of jarring.

  7. All very interesting to one who is fascinated by cemeteries (me). I wonder if the old cemetery was falling apart because the congregation that owned it no longer exists. If that is the case, the cemetery needs to be adopted and cared for by an active congregation, which would be a mitzva, in my opinion. Another option would be for descendants to repair individual gravestones, which I did once for a small village cemetery. It’s not such a big deal or very costly to do this; people simply need to be aware of the problem and how to fix it.

    • Have you gone to the older cemeteries in Kalamazoo? The one across from Henderson Castle is really a wonderful visit. I guess you can add a tour of the graveyard to a tour of the castle itself, but when we visited we didn’t opt for that as it would have been too long for the time we had.
      One of those cemeteries in Toronto definitely had a plaque saying which synagogue or Jewish organization was caring for it, but I didn’t see one on the old one.

  8. Cemeteries can be fascinating places. Interesting to learn some new details about them. And why people have to vandalize them is beyond me. Have we no boundaries?

  9. In the 33 years since my mother died I’ve only visited her gravesite once. I felt nothing. She wasn’t there. I realized then that she is with me all the time. I pack her around with me in my heart.

    • I completely understand what you are saying. As I wrote above in a comment, I don’t have a very sentimental view of visiting cemeteries. I am more interested in the historical and cultural and communal aspects. But I think they are special places for just those reasons!

  10. Luanne, What a beautiful story and quest. Sometimes I visit my daughter’s grave and am so grateful that she’s in a place where “creativity” is abundant. Porcelain photos let people see who’s resting there, and our gravestone maker was even able to engrave some unique “Sara made this” artwork. What I also love is that you cannot tell a good guy from a bad guy in a cemetery–the great equalizer! Have a great day.

    • Liesa, oh, what a lovely place you’ve made for your daughter’s resting place. You have been through so much.
      Did you see that story that has been circulating today about a wedding photograph that has the bride’s child who was ill and passed away photoshopped in a sort of ethereal way? It reminds me of memento mori of the Victorian period, but a way of keeping a loved one in the current family, if that makes sense.
      Interesting idea about cemeteries being equalizers. Yes, as far as good and bad goes for sure. Not so much as far as finances, I think, except in the case of the national cemetery where all have the same gravestone.

  11. When I first moved to Charlotte, I worked in sales at a local cemetery. I never understood how someone could, or would want to vandalize someone’s resting place. Obviously they’re very disturbed individuals.

    • What an interesting job, Jill. I hope you make lots of use out of it in your writing!!!
      So many disturbed people–and then also those without empathy.

  12. Interesting.
    I seldom visit graves, but now and again, I am moved to.
    I had no idea Jewish cemeteries are often vandalized. Another indecent thing to learn about society…
    I don’t want to be buried. That’s what I think every time I go.
    I wandered around a few old, unkempt cemeteries in 2002, looking for family members. Found very little, but it was an experience, fersure.
    I hope you were able to enjoy the lovely weather and scenery of Michigan.

    • So many indecent things to learn about society. It’s hard to believe we keep finding more and more, but there are always ones I haven’t heard about sigh. Do you want to be cremated?
      The weather was good in Michigan (usually it turns bad the minute I show up), and the color was beautiful. In Canada, New York, Pennsylvania, etc. I kept saying, “Beautiful. But not as beautiful as the colors in Michigan.” hahaha 😉

  13. Torontonians think they are the centre of the (Canadian) universe and the rest of Canada likes to hate them for it. Now I can happily confirm, based on your post, that they are in fact the dead centre of Canada.

    Pun aside, I’m glad you found the right cemetery with your husband’s grandparents. A number of years ago my brother was searching and searching for a relative’s grave in old churchyards in England. It was just by accident that he happened on it and it made the trip for him. Maybe it’s an age thing but the older I get the more interested I am in cemeteries and their significance.

  14. It’s such a burden to be called a Torontonian that the rest of you should be nicer to them! What a lucky break for your brother! I wonder how you find where a certain grave is when the cemetery is very old?

  15. Wonderful pictures and tales of visiting cemeteries. I’m at the age where I am interested in such things. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • I remember being in my early 20s when I was in grad school for history for a short period and haunting the local cemeteries. But I didn’t have a perspective on anything past 1930s. Now I sure do!

  16. I used to live by a very old cemetery and some of the head-stones had been toppled. I don’t understand why these places aren’t cared for either, Luanne. I’m sure people would go there at night and do damage, but I’m superstitious and wonder what will happen to these people later on in life (karma, maybe).

    I remember when my father died and at his funeral we were standing in the cemetery during the reading and my hubby said, “Your dad would never have camped under a gum tree.” I thought that was a pretty insensitive remark at the time, but he was right. My father loved camping, but gum trees are notorious for dropping large branches and his grave is right at the base of a huge gum tree. It’s odd the things we remember. But there is a part of the cemetery where a whole lot of colorful wind chimes and ribbons hang from the trees. This is the childrens part of the cemetery and even though it looks beautiful, it makes me very sad… xxxx

    • Oh, that makes me so happy/sad to hear about the children’s part of the cemetery. What a lovely place for family to visit, but the necessity of it is so so sad. I understand what your hubby said. I guess that’s why my father wanted to choose where he wanted his final resting place to be–and wanted to be with the other veterans. Do you know why the headstones were toppled at the cemetery near where you lived? Was it vandalism or old age?

  17. Much of my family is buried in an old cemetery here next to an even older convent, and the grounds are just beautiful. Huge trees with Spanish moss hanging down, curving roads, rolling hills and a little brook running through it. Lovely that it stopped raining as you reached your father’s grave.

  18. I’ve been waiting for this post Luanne, and at last getting the chance to read it (and thanks for the link!). I really enjoyed looking at your photos and seeing the different style of cemeteries. I showed them to hubby, as he used to ‘moonlight’ as a stonemason and has fixed a few gravestones in his time. He thinks that the broken ones are more likely to be because they are old rather than vandalised, although of course it’s hard to know for sure. It happens a lot, he said, when frost gets to them underneath and cracks them. I particularly liked your last photo with the autumn leaves 🙂

    • I’m so glad to hear what your hubby says about the headstones. Much better than vandalism, that is for sure, and there is no end of frost in Toronto haha. I wonder why they haven’t repaired them. Maybe they rely on family members to do so and nobody goes to visit those particular plots any longer. They need to be adopted by someone else! Have you ever heard of Find-a-Grave? It’s not for actual maintenance, but for recording photos and information about every grave out there (eventually). If you want a photo of a grave in a city you can’t get to, you can ask someone else to do it and might find a volunteer willing to take a photo and load it onto the site. Then you can add information about the person, even a photograph of that person.

      • I’m glad I was able to share hubby’s thoughts with you Luanne. Here, I think, it’s the job of the cemetery owners to hire stonemasons out to fix the gravestones. But often, they remain broken for years, left on their sides so at least they don’t fall and injure anyone… And no, I’ve never heard of Find-A-Grave! How utterly fascinating!

  19. I love cemeteries and often think it would be nice to live next to one. I really enjoyed your photos, Luanne, and, like you, the veteran’s cemetery does have an impersonal, generic feel to it. It’s interesting that your dad changed his burial plans. In the cemetery near my home, veterans are buried in their family plot, with miniature flags marking them. That’s been important to me since a family friend, a WWII veteran and former POW, is buried there and I can pay my respects to him whenever I’m home. I haven’t read any of the other comments, but I suspect the cemetery with the toppling tombtones is just old and the ground is sinking from years of supporting the heavy weight. I’ve seen similar disarray in other cemeteries. If it were vandals, they would want to make it clear that that they are vandalizing (little cowards).

  20. You know how I love different cemeteries, and I would have loved to explore these with you!! Really amazing photos – one of my favorite posts!!

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